Special Olympics New Jersey proudly serves participants of all ages. Athletes can begin competing at the age of 8, but can join the movement as young as 2 through a program called Young Athletes. Young Athletes is an inclusive play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities that prepares them for future participation in sports while improving gross motor, social and cognitive skills.
In 2015, Brian Kotun registered his 4-year-old son, Liam, for Young Athletes. After the season, the program’s coach could no longer help, causing the program to end. Seeing the benefits Young Athletes had on his son and other participants, Brian wanted to give children in the community the opportunity to participate again. Joined by fellow parent Shanna Cermak, they reestablished Young Athletes in the Berkeley Township area.
Now on their fifth season of Young Athletes, Brian has helped bring the program to a strong place with lots of athletes and dynamic participation. They have already added a soccer team for transitioning athletes to their Local Training Program (LTP), and are looking to expand to more sports. His focus throughout sessions and practices is to provide participants the opportunity to grow and succeed.
Brian says practices are the highlight of his week. Prior to each practice, the Berkeley Township coaches meet to practice plan. Setting a specific format and schedule beforehand helps with time management and organization. The coaches implement sport specific skill stations as well as other critical aspects of sport like camaraderie and sportsmanship at practices so participants are more prepared for continued participation with Special Olympics. While no practice goes exactly as envisioned, Brian welcomes the unexpected and adjusts as necessary to make future sessions more fun, safe and productive.
As a newer coach to Special Olympics, Brian has enjoyed taking advantage of available resources and trainings, such as the annual Young Athletes Coach Conference and multiple coach clinics held throughout the year. Brian appreciates the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the presenting clinicians and other coaches. His goal is to learn as much as possible through research, clinics and trying out various techniques to give as many athletes as possible opportunities to participate in the sports they want to.
Brian loves witnessing the confidence boost and growth in not only the participants, but in himself. Originally unsure of how to best help athletes develop and grow, he now values every teachable moment. Acting as many athletes’ first coach, he understands the importance of making a strong connection with the participants, based on trust and a willingness to work together. His readiness to meet participants where they are does not go unnoticed, as co-coach Shanna Cermak states:
“Coaching with Brian and being his friend, I’ve gotten to witness his dedication to the special needs community, particularly his [Young Athletes] team. He spends time getting to know every athlete and learning about their areas of strength and how to expand upon those areas. He keeps a positive attitude, treats everyone with kindness and pushes each athlete to do their very best. He creates a fun and energetic environment for everyone. The athletes love him, and you can clearly see that he loves them right back!”
As a Special Olympics parent and coach, giving devotion, energy and service, SONJ is honored to name Brian Kotun as the 2018 Fall Sports Coach of the Season.